Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Practical advice for young adults on tithing

The following is an email exchange I’ve had with a recent GW graduate who asked about tithing as a young professional in DC.  We have a few recent grads who give very generously to the Newman Center for which we are grateful.   Even in an expensive area like Washington, paying off huge student loans, and saving for the future, they still give as much as they can to the Lord through the Church. As this alumna is finding, it is tough to tithe as a young adult!.  Those who do or are trying to do amaze us!

Grad: “I wanted to ask a question to you personally (or for the blog).  A month or so ago when I was reflecting on a guide to making a good confession I was thinking about whether or not I do enough to care for the poor.  Now that I've had a job and an apartment in DC for 6 months, my finances have stabilized and I'm trying to figure out what an appropriate amount would be to give to the Church and charities.  I wanted to ask for some practical advice for young adults on tithing- I know a lot of people throw around the number 10% of your earnings but in a place like DC where housing, food, transportation, etc. costs more, is that still the number to go with?  Or is there a better way of making a realistic commitment?

FG: My advice would be to start your budget out with 10% going to God / the Church/ the poor.  It makes the point that He comes first, and He has given the model in Scripture of giving 10% (Abraham gave 10% to the priest, Melchisedek).  So, first and foremost, 10% to God...non-negotiable.
Of course, the biggest expense you have is housing.  If you're already in a place and rent is set, then that's set.  But, if not, that's the biggest area for what I'll talk about now which is sacrifice.  In order to tithe (give 10% of your income), you will have to make a sacrifice or two.  Mother Teresa's rule of thumb was "give until it hurts".  Sounds like that would happen for you to give 10%.  It would hurt to find modest housing that's a bit further from town or from where all the excitement is.  It would hurt to purchase a car you need instead of a car you want.  It would hurt to take the subway or bus rather than a cab.  It would hurt to sacrifice some shopping days or nights out in order to save money. 

But, you will be honoring and glorifying God throughout. And, of course, you would be a woman of love because love means sacrifice.  In addition, you would be building habits that will come in very handy when you are married and raising children, God willing.  But, you would be living a HUGE example to your kids that some things are more important (e.g., their education) than others (e.g., fancy house or cars).  You would be providing the best form of teaching: example.

…If you give as much as you can, He will give you far more in return.  Pay attention to this Sunday's readings...God takes our five loaves and two fish (your 10%) and will provide an abundance in return.  "God will provide" is the mantra for those of us who give to God until it hurts.

Finally, you probably know the breakdown for the 10%: 5% to your parish and 5% to charities.  Hopefully, Newman can be in there somewhere...we would be grateful! :)

Grad: “I have a few follow-up questions if you don't mind me asking. I'm assuming that the 10% comes from your post-tax earnings since that's how people budget?  Also, how do you factor in paying off loans and saving for major life events like a wedding and a future family or grad school?  Would you suggest prioritizing all of your expenses and then going from there?  I'm trying to set some good habits now before they're difficult to change later”.

FG: Very wise.  I know it's very hard with major expenses like loans and such, but whatever the % of income, God knows if you're giving til it hurts.  He knows if you're doing your best to give all that you can to Him and are sacrificing some comforts in the process.  Btw, I put a relevant video on the blog today (Friday) about giving.  It's a lecture from a GW prof you might have had, Prof Sides.  It's really good...check it out.
I have always done 10% of gross income because I've never been fully sure and want to err on the side of caution, but also because at least some of the money taken out for taxes comes back in April.  But, you're right, most people give 10% of their net income.  Go with that. 

Yes, prioritize your budget. I would suggest writing all of your fixed monthly expenses down first - rent, utilities, loans, car/insurance (if applicable).  These are the non-negotiables. You might even have the money you're saving for the future in there if you're really disciplined.  Ideally, tithing is in there, but for now, leave it out.  If you see that you're paying way too much in rent because you chose to live beyond your means, then that's a lesson for your next place.  Just ride out the lease.  If your loans are too high, can you refinance?  Otherwise, these are all fixed monthly expenses for the foreseeable future.

Then, look at all other monthly expenses - food, transportation, clothes, entertainment, etc.  Be as frugal as you can while still being practical.  Do your best to eliminate waste when you can - if only our government would do this, right!  Every little bit here and there helps.  But, the idea is to save any dollars you can on yourself and give to God/ the poor.  You will feel it, and God will know that you feel it.  Still go out with your friends and be generous as you can with family,et al, but just try to sacrifice your own comforts in order to give to others.

So, if it's only a few dollars every month, that will be enough for God.  Remember the woman with the two copper coins?  She gave all that she had and was commended by Christ.  If you do this, it might not be 10%, but it will be tithing in God's eyes.  And, my guess is that if you make a habit of prioritizing for the next several years, you will be able to give a larger % in time.  It's not about a number, and God probably won't have a calculator for us at Judgment.   It's about an attitude, as Professor Sides, of "giving uncomfortably".

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